Breanna Stewart adds WNBA title pursuit to busy summer checklist

7:50 AM ET


CloseMechelle Voepel covers the WNBA, women’s college basketball, and other college sports for espnW. Voepel began covering women’s basketball in 1984, and has been with ESPN since 1996.

Seattle Storm forward Breanna Stewart got engaged in May, but there hasn’t been much time for wedding preparation.

“To be honest, it’s really not on my radar right now, just with everything else going on,” she said. “I think we’ll start doing the planning maybe once WNBA season is done. But we actually have no idea what date it’s even going to be.”

Welcome to Stewart’s charmed but jam-packed life. As she turns 27 this month, Stewart is in her competitive prime and wants to make the most of every minute. Which is how much of her life basketball takes.

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Stewart was EuroLeague Final Four MVP for UMMC Ekaterinburg in Russia in April. The WNBA season started in May, a couple of weeks after Stewart proposed to fellow basketball player Marta Xargay Casademont. The Tokyo Games concluded Sunday with Stewart winning her second Olympic gold medal. The WNBA season resumes Thursday with the inaugural Commissioner’s Cup championship game (9 p.m. ET, Amazon Prime) in Phoenix, where the Storm meet the Connecticut Sun.

Sunday, Seattle joins the rest of the WNBA in its restart, playing at Chicago (4 p.m. ET, ABC). Should the Storm, who have the league’s best record at 16-5, make a run at defending their WNBA title, that would take them into mid-October. Then Stewart goes overseas to Russia, back to the WNBA next season, to the 2022 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup in Australia, back to Russia …

“It doesn’t give us a lot of options and time for a wedding,” Stewart said. “But at the same time, we want it to be exactly what we want. So I guess it’s better to start preparing for it now.”

Put it on the to-do list. Stewart was the WNBA’s MVP and a league champion in 2018. She missed the next WNBA season after tearing her Achilles playing overseas in April 2019. But she was back to business last season in the WNBA bubble, winning a second title and WNBA Finals MVP award.

Breanna Stewart (with teammates A’Ja Wilson, left, and Napheesa Collier, right) won Olympic gold for a second time with Team USA. AP Photo/Eric Gay

It’s been more of the same in 2021, with Stewart averaging 20.6 points and 9.6 rebounds for Seattle. She led Team USA in minutes played (32.0) and rebounds (10.0) in six games at the Olympics and averaged 15.0 points. Las Vegas forward A’ja Wilson, last season’s WNBA MVP, and Phoenix center Brittney Griner led the Americans in scoring at 16.5 PPG each, and that fearsome front-line trio was unstoppable for the rest of the world. Now they go about trying to stop each other in the WNBA.

“We watched Stewie play a ton of minutes,” Seattle coach Noelle Quinn said of Stewart’s workload in Japan. “And understanding that is going to be important in terms of how we approach these next couple of games.”

Still, Stewart expects to be on court a lot for the Storm, too, even with some jet lag. The Commissioner’s Cup final doesn’t count toward the standings, but winning it means an extra $30,000 per player — a significant sum in the WNBA, especially for those on rookie contracts.

Yet it’s also the start of another long road trip following a few weeks in Japan. After Thursday’s game in Phoenix, the Storm go on a five-game road trip and don’t return to Seattle until Aug. 25.

Stewart credits Storm and U.S. Olympic teammate Sue Bird with helping her refine her approach to a hectic season. Photo by Josh Huston/NBAE via Getty Images

Stewart said it has helped her to play with veteran Sue Bird, who passed on high-level knowledge about staying fit, eating right and taking care of herself. With the physical demands of playing year-round, Stewart has needed that, and Bird said Stewart is ahead of the game, having committed to the right habits early in her career.

Stewart said she just expects to have a lot on her shoulders at all times. She went through a slight learning curve her freshman season at UConn, adjusting in time to dominate the 2013 NCAA tournament and win the first of her four women’s Final Four most outstanding player awards.

“It’s something that I’ve definitely figured it out as my years have gone on,” Stewart said. “I have to do what’s expected of me every night, and that’s just the pressure of being the player that I am. But also, it’s what I embrace: being in a position where I’m able to affect the game in a number of ways. That’s why I play basketball.

“I kind of figured out a lot after my freshman year at UConn about how far I could get mentally and physically. I realized how to have the mindset to go into every game and try to dominate.”

Stewart and the Storm defeated A’ja Wilson and the Las Vegas Stars in the WNBA Finals last fall. AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Because of COVID-19 protocols, athletes at the Tokyo Olympics weren’t allowed to attend other sports, something Stewart did a lot at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games. In Japan, she watched all kinds of events on television and was inspired by performances like Sydney McLaughlin’s 400-meter hurdles world record in track and field.

“Being an athlete in the basketball world,” she said, “and then trying to imagine yourself on the track or jumping off a diving board doing a ton of flips … it’s why we’ve trained all our lives to be the best at what we do.”

As for anything that involves flips, Stewart said, “No way,” but there is another Olympic sport she wouldn’t mind trying. If she ever had a free minute.

“Beach volleyball,” the 6-foot-4 Stewart said. “I think I could be OK in that.”

Actually, though, she is hoping for a few more Olympic trips in basketball. Could she envision, perhaps, matching the five Olympic appearances just achieved by Bird, 40, and Diana Taurasi, 39? That would mean the 2024, 2028 and 2032 Summer Games for Stewart, who would be 37, on the verge of turning 38, in the summer of 2032.

“Yeah, I’d like to do that,” Stewart said, then added with a chuckle, “I’d be younger than Sue and Dee are now. Hopefully, if everything goes right, I’ll be able to have a shot at it.”

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